Friday, December 08, 2017

A Christmas to Remember by L. Kleypas, L. Heath, M. Frampton, and V. Lorret, and a couple final Fiona Friday pics

I can't leave for a holiday break without being completely caught up! And, I just finished A Christmas to Remember, last night. So . . . one last review, at least for now. I'm not going to stop myself from jumping online to review over the holiday break, if I feel like it, this year. Youngest son is the only person coming home and he isn't going to be around for long, so I'll return or just drop in to do a post or two if I feel like it.

A Christmas to Remember is a book of short stories with a Christmas theme (although, honestly, I don't recall a reference to Christmas in the first story -- I might have just overlooked it). I'm not a regular romance reader, so it's worth mentioning that I may approach this book through a different lens than the romance crowd, although I used to hang out with romance writers and published a romantic short story, myself (long ago, in a land far, far away). I'm completely unfamiliar with all four authors but I've heard the name Lisa Kleypas and her name appears in the largest font, so I presume she's the better known of the four. A little about each:

"I Will" by Lisa Kleypas - With a father on his death bed and threatening to cut off all money (but not the rest of the estate), Andrew, Lord Drake, needs to come up with a solution to convince his father to release the funds. He must find a young lady with an impeccable reputation and convince his father that she has reformed him from his dissolute ways. He convinces Miss Caroline Hargreaves to help him, promising to clear her brother's debts and stop leading him astray. But, Drake is surprised to find that the petite Miss Hargreaves hides a passionate, lovely personality behind her stiff exterior and spectacles. Will she reform the rake or will he use her and leave her hanging?

"Deck the Halls with Love" by Lorraine Heath - Lady Meredith Hargreaves is soon to be wed to Lord Litton, thanks to a kiss in a garden. Caught by her father and brothers, a wedding was considered the only possible solution to her compromising position. And, Lady Meredith thinks Lord Litton will make a fine husband. Months after the Season, she's still stung by the rejection of Alistair Wakefield, the Marquess of Chetwyn. Now, Chetwyn's intended is marrying another man and his sights are back on Lady Meredith. With a Christmas wedding soon to take place, can Chetwyn convince the only woman he ever truly loved that he's right for her?

"No Groom at the Inn" by Megan Frampton - Lady Sophronia Bettesford's father was not wise with his money and now she's on her way to take care of a relative's children and chickens. While she's waiting for her coach to arrive, James Archer shows up and asks her to marry him. Then, he clarifies. He needs a fake betrothed to accompany him to a party in the country. For mere weeks of pretending, he's willing to set her up in a country cottage. Sophronia is thrilled to have her lady's maid restored to her side and no prospect of chickens in her future. But, will she be able to tame the restless traveler who is slowly stealing her heart?

"The Duke's Christmas Wish" by Vivienne Lorret - Ivy Sutherland has passed her season without success and is now firmly planted on the shelf. But, her friend Lilah is in need of a husband and Ivy is certain that the Duke of Vale will perfectly fit the bill. Lodged in the duke's immense castle with at least 100 guests, there are plenty of young ladies from which the duke might choose. But, he's distracted by his science experiments and inventions, especially a formula for marriage that the duke believes will save the trouble of going through that awkward Season business. In his ledger, he says Ivy is of "no consequence". Then, why does he find that he has eyes only for her? And, how can he resist a woman who comes up with a better idea to fix a problem with one of his inventions than he himself has imagined?

So . . . not the typical romance reader and I would not have thought to buy this book, but Avon sent it to me, unsolicited. And, wow, am I happy they did! Some years I'm in the mood for holiday reading, sometimes I avoid it. This year, I was craving a little Christmas spirit and I am perfectly fine with a bit of fluffy, predictable romance. And, for the most part, these stories were very predictable. While the final story, "The Duke's Christmas Wish" was, in my humble opinion, a little rough around the edges, I thought it was the least predictable of the four. But, I enjoyed them all.

My hands-down favorite was the third story, "No Groom at the Inn," by Megan Frampton. Sophronia starts out the story a bit on the stiff side. She doesn't want to be called Sophy or Sophycakes, as James lightly proposes. She has a love of words, her father having played the Dictionary Game with her for many years, and each chapter begins with a quiz - which of the three definitions fits the word? The answers are at the end of the story. There are loads of references to the chickens Sophronia will no longer have to tend, some surprisingly witty dialogue, and a marvelously clever ending in which James plays a game to let Sophy know his feelings have been altered. Even at around 100 pages, I found "No Groom at the Inn" surprisingly convincing because the two characters seem suited to each other. They're able to catch each other's meaning when necessary with vague gestures and their dialogue is frankly adorable. By the end of the story, Sophronia is fine with whatever James wants to call her and even responds in kind.

Highly recommended - I'm not sure how regular romance readers would feel about this set of short Christmas stories, but I loved being swept up in a little holiday romance and thoroughly enjoyed A Christmas to Remember. There were several deflowerings of young ladies, so I added a family warning for those who are sensitive about sex scenes. When I regularly read romance, I favored clean romance but I that was primarily because I prefer that a romance is about the things (apart from sex) that make a relationship magnetic, like what two characters have in common, what makes them laugh or lean in to hear more or think twice about that person that didn't appear to be their type, at first. I thought the interaction between the characters was charming and I was enchanted by all four stories.

Final cat photos! It would be easy to blame today's cat crazies on the unexpected snow we got overnight (!!!!) but they never go outside, so I think it was just cats being normal. Here's a pic of their dust-up, followed by the innocent look, after they finished whacking each other.

Wishing the happiest of holidays to all!

Bookfool, with Isabel, and Fiona

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

November Reads in Review, 2017

Links provided: click on the title to leap to the full review.


107. Blackout by Marc Elsberg - The power starts going out in countries across Europe. When a hacker discovers the reason is sabotage, people frantically work to restore power and uncover the culprits while food and medical supplies begin to run low.

108. The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange - A young girl's family moves into an isolated home to recover from grief but things grow increasingly worse when her father leaves home and her mother's mental state declines. Can she save her family? Lyrical writing, scary story.

109. The Underground River by Martha Conway - When a seamstress is caught in a boat explosion and loses the job working for her actress cousin, she gets a new job on a traveling theater on the river that separates slave territory from a free state. What will happen when she is forced to help spirit slaves across the river? A favorite. I absolutely loved this book.

110. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - A little boy escapes the murderer who kills his family and is raised by ghosts. But, the mysterious group that tried to kill him will not give up. A reread; liked it even better the second time.

111. Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra - The tale of an octopus who has retired from his job as an escape artist but becomes determined to escape the aquarium where he lives, after he's challenged. Wonderful illustrations, great story, based on a real octopus escape.

112. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - The classic murder on a train stuck in a snowbank. The train made the book; the mystery didn't do much for me.

113. The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris - The most gorgeous, oversized, illustrated book of words you'll ever see. Humble opinion.

114. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich - Dystopian fiction about a near future in which climate change has screwed things up and evolution has decided to start going backwards. Loved the writing and characters but the world building was somewhat lacking.

115. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne - Cyril loves Julian. Julian loves women. Ireland hates gays. An absolutely brilliant story of what it was like to live as a gay man in Ireland, from birth in the 1940s to present day. Immersive, funny, horrifying. One of the best novels I've read, this year.

116. Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson - Delightfully silly, a bit gross, and heavily, beautifully illustrated nonfiction about the really bad ways people have tried to cure each other of ills, over the past couple thousand years.

117. Animal Expressions by Judith Hamilton - A small, stunning book of animal photographs with quotations that fit the image.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

October Reads in Review, 2017

Wow, October was quite a month, thanks to all the children's books I read! Look at that stack. Links to full reviews are provided, below (just click on the title).


88. Iowa: Poems by Lucas Hunt - Just what it sounds like, a book of poetry about Iowa written by a poet who grew up there. Especially lovely for those of us who came from a small town in the Plains with the wind and the wheat and the beer cans by the dirt road and all that.

89. My Little Cities: London by Jennifer Adams and Greg Pizzoli - London's my favorite city in the world, so naturally this title is my favorite of the four Little Cities board books I reviewed.

90. My Little Cities: New York by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli - The My Little Cities board books are low on words, but info about each location shown is detailed in the back. I discovered I don't know New York all that well, as I recall.

91. My Little Cities: Paris by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli - Paris. Board book. Really cute. Not much else to say, except this series is a great way to introduce extremely small children to cities around the world.

92. My Little Cities: San Francisco by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli - They're also great for travel with very young children because they won't get as beat up as books with tearable pages. I had some minor issues with San Francisco. I mean . . . what's an Embarcadero, anyway? Sure, I've been there but it wasn't clear.

93. Goodnight, Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith - I would be all over this book if the young robot hadn't eaten batteries. Just too nervous that a child might try to mimic the robot. The illustrations are marvelous.

94. Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone and George Ermos - A boy and a dragon are meant to be mortal enemies but when these two meet and discover their mutual affection for cooking, they become fast friends and come up with a plan to avoid having to try to kill each other. So cute.

95. Rufus Blasts Off by Kim Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev - A book loving and very determined pig wants to go to space and works hard at figuring out the way to make it so. The third of the Rufus books; I advise reading them in order. Rufus is adorable.

96. Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy - A mysterious island filled with lost things, a girl who has no memory of who she is, a time-traveling car, and a bit of magic make for a cool way to introduce middle readers to some interesting historical events.

97. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch - A scientist who gave up his dream to start a family is kidnapped by another version of himself, one who managed to finish the project he intended to make his life's work. Can he find his way home? By far the most gripping book I recall reading, possibly ever.

98. The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy - After attending a Nazi Youth summer camp, two boys return home to learn their father's business and work on their uncle's boat. When war breaks out, will they be forced to join the Nazis to survive? Very good, but not a favorite WWII book.

99. A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz - Part memoir, part Christian living, the author tells about how he became a pastor and struggled with his beliefs vs. how the church expected him to behave and eventually, after being fired, began to preach what's in his heart - the concept of opening up the church to anyone and everyone, literally and figuratively building a bigger table like he believes Christ would do. A total comfort read for me.

100. The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing, 2017 - A book of African stories (set in many different countries), some a little too African for this reader. The title story was one of my favorites.

101. Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry - A skeleton and his buddies have to figure out a way to keep him from having to constantly chase down the bones that keep falling off of him. He's not a very sturdy skeleton. Super cute.

102. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu - Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper, that is. A picture biography that tells the story of the woman who was the original coder. Girl power! Get this one for the young girl in your life. It's terrific.

103. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor - A contemporary/historical blend that tells the story of the two girls who pretended their photos of fairies were real (based on the true story) and the entirely fictional story of a woman who inherits a bookstore, reads about the Cottingley fairies, and realizes she hasn't been true to herself. Absolutely charming.

104. We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess and Michael Michell - Two children wish for a monster for Christmas, their parents say "no" but Santa brings one, anyway. Havoc ensues. Lovely illustrations, slightly awkward rhyme.

105. The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas by Marie Tibi and Fabien Ockto Lambert - Bear hibernation is always messing up Christmas. Good thing friends are willing to party early. An old theme, nicely told with cheerful illustrations.

106. Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White - One of my favorite children's books of the month, the story of a mouse who loves winter but has to really work at convincing her friends to come out of their nice, warm home to share in the fun. Wondrous, sepia-tinted charm, lovely writing, and cheese jokes.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

All the leftovers - More Was Lost by Eleanor Perenyi, The Goddess of Mtwara, and The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

I haven't skipped reviewing many books, lately, but there are a handful I haven't gotten around to -- all purchases -- so I'm going to do a quick wrap-up of those, before writing my October and November review posts.

More Was Lost by Eleanor Perenyi is a memoir that tells the story of a WWII-era romance. The author met and fell in love with a Hungarian baron in 1937, at the age of 19, while on a European tour. His family owned a castle and a working farm with a number of outbuildings, although not the kind of crenellated stone building that one typically sees in picture books or photos (there's a photo section in the NYRB Classics edition, shown at left). After their marriage, the couple moved into the family castle and set about bringing the farm back to life and eventually dealing with the changes wrought by WWII.

The majority of the book describes the romance and the author's everyday life, running a large household and farm, learning the Hungarian language, rearranging the castle to suit their needs, interacting with the locals, the farm workers, society, and family, and the complexities of the changing borders. I don't know that I ever fully understood or followed the the intricacies of what was going on around the castle and the reasons it came in and out of the family's ownership (although I got the gist of it) because I'd never heard of some of the ethnic groups in the area. It was a little challenging to sort out their characteristics and the details of the changing political situation. But, I found More Was Lost immensely entertaining.

Highly recommended - Eleanor Perenyi was one determined and impressive woman. For a 19-year-old to marry the man of her dreams, in spite of expectations, and not only learn the language and how to run a farm and maintain a castle but deal with the coming war and the changing political situation was pretty astounding. The ending is fairly sad, but I found this memoir charming and a very enjoyable read.

The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing, 2017 is a book I bought when I had time to waste while waiting for a flight at O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. The stories are so diverse that it's almost impossible to describe them all, plus I spaced the reading out pretty dramatically. Some are so very, very African -- with words from various African languages mixed into the text -- that I found them difficult to follow and longed for a glossary. Others were only different from other English language stories in their setting or their very uniquely African type of magical realism. Some were favorites, some less so because they were disturbing and one was almost completely incomprehensible to me (I ended that one feeling as if it was, perhaps, a bit of experimental writing).

Recommended, if you happen to be in South Africa. There's not even an image of The Goddess of Mtwara at Goodreads, so I presume it's not an easy book to get hold of outside of South Africa, but I would definitely recommend it to those who are interested in reading some uniquely African writing.

I kind of hate not writing a full post about The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris but I'll try to show and describe as much as I can in a small space. I think I've mentioned the fact that I started following Robert Macfarlane - an Oxford professor, collector of words, naturalist, and author - earlier this year. I'm not sure of the accuracy of what I've read, but somewhere I read that The Lost Words is the result of his determination to bring words that were being taken out of the Oxford English Dictionary back into use after he heard they were being removed.

The resulting children's book is beyond impressive, a book of words in which each letter of the word has a sentence of its own. Kingfisher, for example:

Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker, river's quiver.
Ink-black bill, orange throat, and a quick blue, back-gleaming feather stream.
Neat and still it sits on the snag of a stick, until with . . .
Gold-flare, wing fan, whipcrack the kingfisher - zingfisher, singfisher! -
Flashes down too fast to follow, quick and quicker carves its hollow
In the water, slings its arrow superswift to swallow
Stickleback or shrimp or minnow.
Halcyon is its other name - also ripple calmer, water nester,
Evening angler, weather-teller, rainbringer and
Rainbow bird - that sets the stream alight with burn and glitter!
I don't have a photo of the kingfisher spread but here's an interior shot of one of the other illustration spreads -- some of the artwork is across a single, facing page, some spans two:

This is an oversized book, probably what one would call coffee-table sized and it is absolutely breathtaking.

Highly recommended - Spectacular in every way, with beautiful, poetic wording and stunning illustrations. The book is British and a bit pricey (I ordered my copy from Book Depository) but worth it. There are some British spellings (like colour in the kingfisher wording, above) and at least one word that may not be familiar to Americans: "conker". A conker is a kind of nut that you'll occasionally read about in British lit, mostly in regards to children playing games with them, but I can't say I know what kind of nut it is - from what tree, that is. No biggie; it's an excuse to learn something new and I can't imagine any word-loving, reading fanatic child not falling instantly and deeply in love with this book.

OK, this is all the leftovers but one. I just noticed I missed one book. I don't want to make this post any longer, so I'll save it for another day.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

I love reading memoirs but sometimes they just rip your heart out and that's the case with When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors, the story of the author's life and how she and two other women came to found the Black Lives Matter movement.

Beginning with her childhood in Van Nuys, California, Kahn-Cullors describes what it was like growing up impoverished, hungry, black, constantly dogged by law enforcement, and without much parental guidance. The author had 3 siblings and her mother, originally from a middle class background, was forced to fend for herself after her family kicked her out for becoming pregnant at 16. From the time she was small, the author knew her mother as a woman who left for work before dawn and came home late at night, working 2 or 3 jobs just to get by. Her father came and went after he lost his factory job and, eventually, Kahn-Cullors found out that she had a different biological father from that of her siblings. Both were unreliable in their own ways, so young Patrisse looked up to her brothers, the only reliable men in her life.

The author became aware of how black people were singled out by police at an early age, noting that the black people around her were treated differently by the court system, almost expected to become criminals, even in schools. The latter is something I was aware of when my children were in school. Posted in the window of the middle school office and outside the high school office were posters listing crimes and their likely punishments. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get them removed.

The author is bisexual (she prefers the term "Queer"), her eldest brother has a severe mental illness, and the entire family has been impacted by the targeting of blacks that came about due to the so-called "War on Drugs," so she has a lot of different challenges to tackle and all are described in gut-wrenching detail. Her experiences led her to become an activist at a young age and she describes the various movements that she participated in before she and two other women founded the Black Lives Matter movement.

What a shocking, horrifying, eye-opening read. One of the biggest surprises: I had no idea that the Black Lives Matter movement was founded by women and is still a women's movement. Kahn-Cullors expressed her frustration about this. There are men who participate and even they were well aware that in our patriarchal society the press gravitates toward the men for statements. I found myself nodding. Had the press focused on the fact that women founded the BLM movement, I wouldn't have gone into the reading of Patrisse Kahn-Cullors' memoir thinking otherwise.

The author talked about other efforts she's been involved in, besides the attempt to bring awareness to how the police and court systems treat black men vs. how they treat others. Some of those efforts were finding success until the recent presidential election set them back: the attempt to halt the building of prisons and instead funnel public funding into programs that positively impact impoverished communities, for example, and the effort to demilitarize police forces.

I found the challenge the author's brother and her family have faced, just in dealing with his mental illness, particularly interesting because it touches on a subject I've heard about, the fact that police officers are either not trained to discern the difference between mental illness and deliberate violence or too focused on racial profiling. I've heard of cases in which family members carefully warn police officers that someone is mentally ill and needs to be approached a certain way, only to be met with (often deadly) force, instead. The author speculates that the trauma of being targeted by police, treated violently, left without parents or support when their elders are imprisoned, and being imprisoned for offences in which nobody is harmed may even be the source of some mental illness. It took quite a few terrifying years and two imprisonments before her own brother even had a solid diagnosis, more time to get his medication balanced properly, and a continuing effort by a network of family and friends to keep him on his medication and get him the proper help when he needs it.

Highly recommended - A rough read, but a good one, I spent a great deal of my reading time with tears in my eyes. Some readers might feel a little judgmental about many of the details of Kahn-Cullors' life. She's not straight, her mother had 4 children by two different men, and drugs were, in fact, a common problem in her community. It's important to look past what some of us may consider "sinful" and think, instead, "What can we do to stop the impoverished from taking drugs, getting pregnant young, etc., in the first place? What societal changes will help stop the destructive patterns?" Kahn-Cullors offers up some solutions: creating green spaces, offering support to those who have parents in prison, providing medical and mental healthcare, feeding those who are hungry. I hope this memoir will help to open a few more eyes to the dramatic inequalities faced by black Americans.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Animal Expressions by Judith Hamilton

Animal Expressions by Judith Hamilton is a small (large postcard sized, about 6" x 4") book of wildlife photography with quotations on the opposite side of each spread. The quotation opposite the cover photo, for example, says this:

In art and dreams, you may proceed with abandon. 
In life, you must proceed with stealth.
--Patti Smith

At only 72 pages in length and such a compact size, my first thought when I read it was, "Stocking stuffer!" It is, in fact, the perfect size for a stocking stuffer for the nature lover in your world. My eyes are getting old, so I'd love to see a larger version of Animal Expressions. It appears to be self-published, though, so I imagine that's where the size choice comes in. All of the photos are sharp, expressive, and beautiful. Even though it's small, it would be nice to plunk on a coffee table for guests to flip through.

Recommended - Gorgeous photos, fitting quotations, and half of the proceeds of Animal Expressions will go to a good cause: the Wildlife Conservation Society, where the photographer author has been a trustee for 15 years. Definitely perfect for gift-giving.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Quackery by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen

I have a fascination for medical history and Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen, is a wacky look at the way medical practitioners -- going back thousands of years -- have attempted to treat illness, often poisoning, harming, or even killing patients in the process.

The first chapter, about such wondrous techniques as "purging" (from both ends) by way of various poisonings, is by far the most stomach turning. I'm glad to say that most of the remaining chapters (opiods, water treatment, mesmerism, bleeding, etc.) are an improvement, horrifying as they may be. Except maybe the one in which people were burned in one spot to stop pain in another. Ouch.

The authors insert a bit of the gallows humor medical practitioners are known for, throughout the book. If you've got medical professionals in your family or circle of friends, you know that's pretty common. I found the use of dark humor a tiny bit annoying, at first, even though I literally laughed out loud at least once. But, I became accustomed to the writing style and eventually it didn't faze me at all.

I found a few little tidbits particularly interesting, such as the information on leeches (still used in medicine, though more sparingly - eww) and the actual story of the first "snake oil" salesman from which we get the term that describes quack cures. But, I was particularly fascinated with the general impression I got about today's quackery. Yes, we still have quack cures popping up in our modern world. But, it's interesting to note that even some of today's fast fixes and medical advice have roots in fad "cures" of another century and that while most of what's mentioned in the book failed miserably, some real, functioning cures were merely poisonous at the wrong dosages and are effective, today.

The only problem I had with this book is that all of the image captions but one (not sure why there was one exception) were written in Latin. Update: At the time I wrote this, I had no way of finding out whether or not the captions in the final print copy were English or they'd left them those annoying Latin captions in place. Fortunately, a friend is reading Quackery and she said the final print version does have English captions beneath the photos and illustrations. Whew! Thanks, Michelle!

Highly recommended for history lovers with strong stomachs - You can't be faint of heart to read Quackery (well . . . maybe you can, but you'll need to take breaks), but it's very entertaining and definitely a book I'd recommend to those who like quirky history in general, medical history in particular, and gorgeous enough to make a great gift idea. I received an ARC from Workman Publishing and the ARC is entirely printed in black and white, but the final print version is, according to the publicity info, full color. Even in black and white the illustrations are stunning so I'm planning to seek out the full color version, if only to peek inside and see what it looks like.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom): 

  • Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Donna Decker
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
  • The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
  • Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives by Tina Alexis Allen
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
  • Lottery by Patricia Wood
  • Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

Only one of these books was sent to me by a publisher: Hiding Out by Tina Alexis Allen. The rest were purchased for a whopping quarter each in the little corner of my former library where used books are sold for 25 cents per inch, stacked. So . . . $1.50 for the 6 of them, which makes abandoning the bad ones soooo easy. Lottery is an extra copy. One of my favorite books of the past decade, I couldn't pass up the chance to have a copy to pass around (I can't bear to loan out my own precious copy).

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen
  • When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors and Asha Bandele

I was so immersed in both of these books that I didn't even start reading any fiction for at least 4 or 5 days, last week. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • A Christmas to Remember by Kleypas, Heath, Frampton, and Lorret 
  • Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon 

I've read the first two stories in A Christmas to Remember and they're (not entirely clean) fluffy romance but I enjoyed them and am looking forward to the remaining two. The first story . . . I'm not sure I ever got a sense of the Christmas season at all, but I liked the predictability of the romance. Sometimes predictability is comforting.

Spies in the Family is a book I started while on vacation but abandoned because I could only handle one book at a time, while traveling. I didn't make it far, the first time, but I was enjoying it so I'm looking forward to this second attempt (only on p. 8, at this point).

In other news:

A bit of trivial info about Lottery, for you. I normally don't remember character names unless a book has a huge impact on me, and it's been . . . oh, maybe 10 years? . . . since I read Lottery. I decided to test myself and managed to spit out 3 character names - Perry, Keith, and "a grandmother, but I can't remember what they called her." Sure enough, Perry was the main character, the grandmother was called Gram, and Keith was Perry's friend. I had to flip through the book to make sure, but the fact that I remember not one but 3 characters shows you just how much that book means to me.

I'm going to try to wrap up my final reviews, this week, and then go ahead and start my holiday break on Saturday. That means today's Monday Malarkey will be the last one for a few weeks. However, I'll keep writing posts until I'm completely caught up. I need to post about my October and November reads, as well. So much to do. I'll let you know when I'm caught up and ready to leave for my Christmas break. Happy Monday!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Fiona Friday

Izzy says, "Hey, there!"

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Oh, no, not again. I keep looking at this empty post and thinking, "Where do I start?" Sigh. Time for another self-interview. Today, I'm going to be interviewed by the little green dragon on my desk. Normally, he just stands around looking like he's going to incinerate my pink fairy but I keep her in a jar to protect her and she can use a day off from being stared at by a dragon, so . . . off we go.

Green Dragon (GD): Please let me eat the fairy.

Bookfool (BF): Nope, sorry, not happening.

GD: Bummer. So, tell us about The Heart's Invisible Furies.

BF:  The Heart's Invisible Furies is the story of an Irishman's life that spans many decades. Cyril Avery's story begins with his mother, who is thrown out of her hometown at the age of 16 when she falls pregnant. She moves to Dublin and there she gives birth. The story then leaps ahead to when Cyril is 7 years old and living with his adoptive parents and follows him throughout his life, from the point of his realization that he's attracted to other boys to when he's a man in his 70s. The Heart's Invisible Furies gives you a good overview of life as a gay man across the many years of Cyril's life, from his birth in the 1940s, through the AIDS crisis, and into the present.

GD: So, what did you love most about the story?

BF: The depth of story and characterization. The Heart's Invisible Furies has almost a saga feel, even though it spans a single lifetime. It's just beautifully expansive. I immediately was drawn in by John Boyne's immense descriptive power as he began the story with young Catherine's removal from the church, which was both serious and light-hearted at the same time. The description of Catherine's brothers is a good example of the light-hearted side:

My six uncles, their dark hair glistening with rose-scented lacquer, sat next to her in ascending order of age and stupidity. Each was an inch shorter than the next and the disparity showed from behind. The boys did their best to stay awake that morning; there had been a dance the night before in Skull and they'd come home moldy with the drink, sleeping only a few hours before being roused by their father for mass.

~from p. 1 of Advance Reader's Edition, The Heart's Invisible Furies (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

GD: And, what did you dislike about the story?

BF: Only one thing and it was never enough to make me even remotely consider putting the book down. Wading through the years of promiscuity was rough. In Ireland, it was illegal to be gay and not unusual for someone to get the crap beat out of him, get arrested, or worse. So, for many years, Cyril ends up furtively seeking out sex in places where other gay men are known to hang out: bathrooms, parks. There are no relationships; it's just quick fixes to satisfy their libido. That was rough reading, not just because you know that Cyril (who is a really nice guy, in general, but perhaps too shy for his own good) could be arrested or brutalized but also because it's just so very, very sad that it wasn't possible for Cyril to just be himself. He always felt like he had to keep his true self in the shadows.

GD: There's another thing you want to mention that you loved.

BF: What a mind reader you are, little green dragon! Yes, I loved the way the story is brought full circle. It's not a spoiler to mention this, by the way -- it's mentioned in the first chapter -- but the story begins with Catherine getting kicked out of her hometown and ends shortly after her return to the graveyard where most of the family she left behind is now buried. There's another scene beyond that but it's a spoiler, so I can't share, but it ends on an uplifting note and I loved it.

GD: How did you feel about the main character, Cyril?

BF: I liked Cyril and thought he was a good person, at heart, but there were times I wanted him to speak up, especially when he was with those closest to him. While the author makes it clear how dangerous it was for a homosexual to share his truth in Ireland, till recently, even with family or close friends, I still yearned for Cyril to find the strength to tell the people most important to him -- especially when he knew that not sharing could be hurtful to others. Incidentally, the relationship between Cyril and his best friend Julian is also at the heart of the story.

GD: Anything else worth mentioning?

BF: Oh, yes, my favorite interactions and characters. There's a very strong-willed but kind woman who keeps reappearing, over the years. You can't help but love everything about her and the scenes with her and Cyril are all great. Cyril's best friend, Julian, also has a sister who makes a brief appearance early in the book and then Cyril gets to know her years later. I always loved their conversations. They were among the most entertaining in the book. I also found Maude Avery, Cyril's adoptive mother, a fascinating character. I have a feeling she was among the most fun to create, from an author's viewpoint: a published writer who thought recognition was tawdry but who became posthumously famous. The relationship between Cyril and his adoptive parents (and their insistence that he call them by their names because he was not "a real Avery") never lost the gloss of its silliness.

GD: So, what's the bottom line?

BF: Highly recommended, especially to those who love a novel that you can really sink your teeth into. The Heart's Invisible Furies is almost 600 pages long, brilliantly constructed, clever, and deeply meaningful. I'm leaving out certain details that I'd love to talk about because I personally enjoyed the unfolding of the story, the struggles, and the surprises so much, but the bottom line is that I absolutely loved this book and want to read everything John Boyne has written, now. I appreciated his stunning descriptive powers, the balance of serious storyline and quirky characters, the fact that the book made me think, broke my heart, and mended it. I closed The Heart's Invisible Furies with happy tears in my eyes. I've read a lot of wonderful books, this year, but The Heart's Invisible Furies is really something special.

GD: I have to go incinerate someone, now. Thanks for asking me to interview you. It was not as fun as breathing fire, but it was nice and all.

BF: Uh, you're welcome?

Cover thoughts: While I like the looks of the cover shown above, I don't understand its purpose and I like a book cover that speaks to me in some way or really relates to the storyline. There are several other covers (not all English printings) that I found more fitting:

The one at left (apparently, the Brazilian cover) speaks to me of Cyril's loneliness during a good portion of his life, when he had friends but not the love and companionship that he desired. The other two images relate to the friendship between Cyril and Julian, which dominates a good portion of the book.

End note: This is my first read by John Boyne. Surprising, considering how much I love WWII fiction. I don't have the foggiest idea why I haven't read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the author's best-known title, but it is definitely going on my wish list.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

When I received my shiny, pretty copy of Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich from HarperCollins, I didn't notice that the cover is a glossy ultrasound image. It was only when I went to add the book to my current reads that it became clear. So, what does the storyline have to do with the cover image? The protagonist, Cedar Songmaker, is 4 months pregnant at the opening of the book.

Future Home of the Living God is set in a dystopian near future. Climate change has altered the environment and the human race has stopped evolving and begun to slide backwards at an alarming rate. Pregnant women are being seized by the government. What is happening? Scientists have not been able to figure out why humans are losing ground, have no idea how to reverse the problem. And, people are beginning to panic.

Because she wants her child to be born as safe and healthy as possible, Cedar has decided to seek out her birth parents to learn about her family's medical history. Meanwhile, her adoptive parents have disappeared and the father of her child eventually reappears in her life. Will Cedar be able to remain hidden from view until after the baby arrives? Will the baby be normal or a less evolved creature? How will she and the child hide after its birth?

Those questions were enough to keep the pages turning and I really liked Louise Erdrich's writing, but I had some issues with the world building. As I was reading, I expected the usual peeling of the onion, plot-wise. I presumed that the author would make it clear, for example, why the societal structure was going to pieces, why there was a run on banks, why people would panic and go all Lord of the Flies. I understood why a pregnant woman might be in danger because The People in Charge might feel that it might be necessary to come up with some sort of breeding program that necessitated keeping the healthiest, most intelligent, closest-to-normal babies separate from those who were reverting to a more primitive form. That seems like a pretty obvious concept in a world where the opposite of evolution is taking place. But, I never felt like there was enough basis for such a complete collapse of the societal network, primarily because I couldn't buy into the concept that evolution could reverse itself so quickly that people would worry that soon they wouldn't be human at all.

Neither recommended or not recommended - I have mixed feelings about Future Home of the Living God because there was a great deal that I liked about it but I felt like there were too many pieces missing. Sure, panic could cause things to go blooey, but evolution is such a slow process that a sizeable cross-section of humanity doesn't even believe it exists. The idea that it could reverse itself at such speed just didn't work for me. And, yet, I loved the characterization, the setting, the use of the heroine's Native American heritage, and the way the book made me think. So, it was definitely not a waste of time and I'm glad I read it. I just closed the book feeling a little unsatisfied because I didn't feel the questions the plot was structured around were suitably answered.

I still have a copy of Louise Erdrich's last book on my TBR piles. I started LaRose and was enjoying it but set it aside because I had too many books going at once, last year. Even though Future Home of the Living God didn't entirely work for me, it has definitely made me want to return to LaRose. Erdrich is clearly an excellent writer and I always, always appreciate the use of Native Americans in literature as I feel they're underrepresented.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is a classic 1930s mystery in which a person is murdered on a train just before it becomes stuck in the snow. Someone on the train is guilty of murder and Inspector Poirot must find the murderer without any high-tech gadgetry, instead relying upon observable fact, interviews of the suspects, and his powers of deduction.

You probably knew all that, but I'd completely forgotten the storyline, apart from "Murder on train; Poirot investigates," although I've seen the movie version that stars David Suchet (long, long ago). The novel edition shown above is a tie-in to the new movie release starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot and a stunningly high-profile cast as the passengers and suspects.

You might be surprised to find out this is the first time I've read Murder on the Orient Express. I've never been a big fan of Agatha Christie but I do like to occasionally read a mystery as a change of pace, so I requested the book from HarperCollins for review. As it turned out, in spite of its classic status I felt about the same as I always do about Agatha Christie's books (meh), but there was one thing that particularly intrigued me and that was the details of the train, itself - the diagram of compartments, the description of the sleeping berths and dining car, etc. That part I enjoyed. And, the movie tie-in edition has a photo section, so there are shots of the train to refer to when the author mentions certain details, like the window bar.

Recommended, especially to mystery lovers - I may not be the best judge of Agatha Christie because I tend to dislike the kind of mysteries that involve someone hammering suspects with questions, but the descriptions of the train itself kept me going and I can see why Murder on the Orient Express is a classic. Its setting and the murder are definitely unique. And, now, looking back on a work that is at least 80 years old, you get a  fascinating historical  peek into of a mode of travel that has all but disappeared. I was also intrigued by a comment made by a German character about how her people were peaceful, an especially interesting remark in view of the events that took place in Germany within a handful of years after publication in 1934. I appreciated the movie photo section and now I definitely want to see the movie, if only for a better look inside the train.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I hope my American friends all had a relaxing holiday weekend.

Recent arrivals:

  • Super Gifted by Gordon Korman - from Balzer and Bray for review
  • Animal Expressions by Judith Hamilton - for review; looks like a self-pub

I think both Super Gifted and Animal Expressions came to me via Shelf Awareness. I've already read Animal Expressions, a book of animal photographs with quotations. It's very short and the photos are stunning. Super Gifted is the sequel to Ungifted, which I have not read. But, I have a feeling it won't matter. I read Schooled by Gordon Korman, a few years ago, and I haven't forgotten how hard I laughed. I'm sure I'll love Super Gifted.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
  • The Heart's Invisible Furies - John Boyne
  • Animal Expressions by Judith Hamilton

Since finishing The Heart's Invisible Furies, I haven't decided which novel to start on next but I'm leaning toward a book of romantic Christmas stories by various authors called A Christmas to Remember because I'm in a Christmasy mood.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • Quackery by Lydia Kang

I'm a little over halfway into Quackery and I hope to finish it tonight.

In other news:

We took a quick trip to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. It was an awfully short visit because Kiddo needed to be back by in Oxford by Sunday morning, but the traffic was more reasonable than anticipated and we had a good time visiting family. We stopped at a home decorating store in Arkansas, on the return trip, and I put together my Christmas centerpiece with my purchases, last night. It's a hollowed out bit of tree trunk (already had that) with silver pine cones, gold sequined ornaments, and a fake bird with wings and tail made of twigs and glittery spray on his body. Fiona tried to eat his tail.

I shot from a low angle because the dining room table needs tidying. Shhh! Don't tell!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Inky's Great Escape by Casey Lyall and Sebastia Serra

This is the last review of 4 children's book reviews I've posted, today. 2 were Christmas stories, 1 a winter tale. I'm taking the rest of the week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, since I have family in town, and I'll return next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!

Subtitled The Incredible (and Mostly True) Story of an Octopus Escape, Inky's Great Escape is the story of an octopus who is retired from being an escape artist. Now living in a local aquarium to rest, Inky enjoys playing games with his pal Blotchy (also an octopus) and telling him stories about his great escapes. One day, Blotchy tells Inky he doubts Inky can escape the aquarium and Inky sees it as a challenge. He draws up a plan and then waits for the right opportunity, which turns out to be an opening left in the tank by one of the keepers.

Of course, in real life the octopus was not probably a dramatic storyteller (who knows -- you'd have to speak Octopus) but Inky's Great Escape really is based on the true story of an octopus who slipped out of his tank and down a drain into the sea at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. In the book, Inky comes back to visit by way of the drain, telling the stories of his great escapes. In real life, I presume he never returned.

Highly recommended - A wonderful story, colorful and funny and sweet. When Inky's Great Escape landed on my doorstep, I read it aloud to my husband. He's not really all that interested in listening to children's books but he eventually set down his phone and smiled. Inky's story is fun to read and very entertaining. It's boldly colored with cheerful-looking animals. Children will love the idea of a playful octopus taking a challenge, succeeding, and coming back to visit his friend.

Note about the cover: You can't tell in the image above, but the blue-green background of the cover has a gorgeous metallic sheen. It's also notable that every spread is as colorful as the cover (not always the case). Absolutely eye-popping illustrations.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White

Lucy is not like the other mice, who huddle in their burrows during the winter. She likes everything about winter. But, she isn't having any luck convincing her friends to go outdoors. She's tried bringing them snowcones, staging an indoor snowball fight, and showing them an icicle without convincing them.

After Lucy discovers how much fun it is to slide around on homemade ice skates, she comes up with an idea and quietly works in her room. Everyone's curious what she's up to. Finally, Lucy finishes her job and gives each of her friends a warm hat. Then she asks them to follow her outdoors, where Lucy shows them how she ice skates.

She spriraled and swirled,
swizzled and twizzled, 
She was flying!

"Marvelous!" cried Mona.
"Spectacular!" called Millie.
"Brie-vissimo!" cheered Marcello.
"We want to try!" squeaked her friends. 

Besides the hats, Lucy has made each of her friends a pair of ice skates from pine needles. They teeter, wobble, and fall, but eventually their practice pays off. Now, they understand the joy of winter.

Highly recommended - A delightful winter tale about one little mouse sharing her greatest joy with her reluctant friends. Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro and Teagan White is my favorite of the three books in this batch. I love everything about it: the storyline, the softly colored illustrations, the beautiful writing, the cheese jokes. If you live in a hot climate like I do, you and the children in your world might be tempted to pull it out in the summer to remember cooler days and it serves as a great reminder of all the things that make winter fun.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas by Marie Tibi and Fabien Ockto Lambert

In The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas, all the animals (each labeled with their name in the first spread) are excited about Christmas and talking about what they plan to ask for, except Little Bear. Little Bear is sad, he explains, because he always misses Christmas. Every year, he hibernates:

Oswald the wise owl explained, 'Yes, it's true, bears go to sleep before the big freeze comes and they don't wake up until the warm days of spring arrive." 

Oswald wonders if there's anything they can do to help Little Bear experience "the magic and wonder of Christmas" and Bill the badger has an idea. They can celebrate an Almost Christmas. Big Deer asks Little Bear to go for a walk while the others prepare Little Bear's home with food, decorations, and gifts, including a banner that says, "Merry Almost Christmas". After the celebration, Little Bear beds down for his long winter nap, looking forward to sweet dreams.

Recommended - I've read similar books about animals who are going to miss Christmas because of their annual hibernation, so this particular theme of celebrating Christmas early isn't a particularly new or fresh one. And, yet, the story is heartwarming. If you have small children and they don't already own a book with a similar storyline, The Bear Who Didn't Want to Miss Christmas is a good one, with cute animal illustrations, a theme of caring for friends by filling a need, and a sweet, uplifting ending.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess and Claudia Ranucci

Time for a few Christmas books! I have three children's Christmas/winter books to review and one regular children's title, so this will be the first of four reviews posted today, all of which were sent to me by Sterling Books for review.

Our monster is causing trouble.
Request backup on the double!
The playroom has turned to rubble, 
which we have to clear. 

We Wish for a Monster Christmas by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, is the story of two children who wish for a monster for Christmas and get what they asked for but find that monsters are troublesome. The book has a rhyming pattern that matches that of the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". You'll need to read through it before reading it to children to familiarize yourself with the rhythm. I personally found it a little unpredictable when the rhymes will match the pattern of regular verses and when they end up matching that of the bridge (the part that goes "Good tidings to you, wherever you are," in the song), although I'm sure that's not a problem once you've familiarized yourself with the book. I read the book aloud to my cats, figured out the trick pretty quickly, and finished off singing the final pages.

As to the story, it's super cute. The two unnamed children in the book imagine how fun it will be to play with a monster. But, their parents tell them you can't rent or buy a monster and the answer to their request is "no". It doesn't occur to them that Santa may be willing. So, the children end up receiving their monster from Santa and he doesn't turn out to be their idealized playmate at all. Instead, he trashes the house and has to be sent outdoors, where he makes a very nice guard and is more tolerable for play. The book ends with the children planning what they'll ask to receive for Christmas, next year: five hundred monkeys!

Recommended - While I was a little put off by the rhythm (sometimes, I really think it's best just to write a children's book in prose rather than trying something fancy), I like the story and I love the illustrations. They're vibrant with plenty of action, so it's a particularly good picture book for little ones who can't yet read and enjoy looking pictures; the story is clear from the illustrations alone. My favorite spread is the final one, in which the illustrator imagines what it will be like getting monkeys for Christmas in the coming year. It's got so much going on it'll keep little eyes busy searching out the details.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Malarkey

It's a holiday week in the U.S., so I'm going to do my Monday Malarkey post, as usual, and then tomorrow will be a day for children's books (mostly Christmas titles). After that, I think I'll take a few days off to enjoy family and return on Monday. So, early Thanksgiving wishes to the Americans and safe travels to those who will be flying or driving!

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd
  • Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
  • The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
  • How to Stop Time (illustrated edition) by Matt Haig and Chris Riddell
  • The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

Apart from the illustrated version of How to Stop Time (which I've already read but have been thinking I want to reread, ever since I finished it), this week's books are all by naturalists and the entire stack was purchased. I've been following Robert Macfarlane on Twitter for a while and I love his posts. It was his recommendation of The Living Mountain that set me on the path of this crazy spree and, yes, the "If you like this, try that" thing probably did me in a bit. I had planned on buying The Lost Words, anyway, so The Living Mountain and The Lost Words were the first in my cart. I'd just read there's an illustrated edition of How to Stop Time. Into the cart it went. And, so forth. I think it's partly Macfarlane's posts and partly a desire to get away from city vacations that have me craving nature, both in my reading and in real life. It'll be interesting to see where we end up traveling in 2018.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

I have thoughts about the latter two so I'd really like to get the reviews written before I shut down for the holiday but I don't know if I'll have time. Short version: I want to see the new Orient Express movie and ohmygosh, The Lost Words (a children's book) is breathtaking. The illustrations alone are worth the price (would make a great Christmas gift).

Posts since last Malarkey:

Most of those posts were made in a single day because I was foggy from migraine meds and decided I might as well write a few reviews if I wasn't up to much else. So many terrific reads in that bunch. 

Currently reading:

  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich - Believe it or not, this is my first by Erdrich. I'm enjoying it, although there are things about the dystopian world that I don't understand (or, maybe don't find well enough explained). I should finish it, today. 
  • Quackery by Lydia Kang - I set this aside to finish The Graveyard Book and Murder on the Orient Express but I'm pleased to report that after the first section, the quack cures described have been decidedly less disgusting than the earlier ones, which basically amounted to poisoning patients (often to death). 

In other news:

I need some local friends to dump books on. Anyone want to move near me and be my book buddy?

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Iowa: Poems by Lucas Hunt + a Fiona Friday pic

I haven't read any poetry in quite some time so I was super excited to get a copy of Iowa by Lucas Hunt. I've read two other volumes of poetry by the author and enjoyed them both.

Iowa is just what it sounds like: poetry set in the state of Iowa, where the author grew up. Because I grew up in the Plains, there is a lot of subject matter I totally relate to in Iowa. Here's a great example:

They take the air like words in blue display,
planes of rain that pass with outspread wings
and ride round the sky in sure, slow turns
to hunt hypnotic, float and dive--
birds witness wider fields,
their eyes survey a storm and pass
through light that changes everything in space.
~p. 19

The author has a lovely way of bringing the experiences of growing up in Iowa to life, whether he's talking about riding a bike down a dusty road or lying in a corn field with a girlfriend, the type of beer can you're most likely to see by the road, the experience of working on a farm. It's all very reminiscent of home to someone who grew up in similar territory. I got a particular buzz out of any poem with wind and wheat, my two favorite things about Oklahoma. Seriously, I love wheat fields.

Here's another excerpt (not the full poem):

Rusty and dusty on blacktop pavement
American flags in yards
train trestles piled by the tracks
country on the radio
deer sausage
chills in the bed of our Chevrolet.

~from "Wheatland Car Wash", p. 65

Highly recommended - A wonderful, transportive volume of poetry full of slice-of-life Americana in verse. You'll especially love this book if you appreciate the Plains or you're from Iowa, but there's something for every poetry lover in Iowa.

And, it's Friday but I didn't take any great photos of the cats, this week, so Fiona Friday is a cheat -- one of the photoshopped pictures of my girls that were done by people in my online cat group, this one of a conga line by Lauren Boutz. I can't look at this without smiling.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Thoughts and F2F group discussion

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was a reread for me and I'm not sure I ever actually wrote about it on the blog when I read it, before. At least, I couldn't find a review when I looked via Google. Incidentally, this serves as a great reminder that my blog search feature has not worked in years. The best way to look for a review on my blog is to go to Google and type in the title of a book you hope I've reviewed and "Bookfoolery". If I've reviewed the book at this blog (or even mentioned it), there will be a link.

Back to the book. The first time I read The Graveyard Book, I checked it out from my local library because I've always been a little iffy about Gaiman. I fall instantly in love with about half of his books and the other half are let-downs. I never know which will be the case and will often check his books out from the library before buying them.

I remembered exactly why I didn't love The Graveyard Book, the first time. It's got a pretty scary opening. At the beginning, a toddler's family is murdered but he's saved by the fact that he's a wanderer and the door to the house was left open. After roaming to the local graveyard (which is also a nature reserve and has been closed to new burials for some time), the murderer pursues him but the ghosts in the graveyard agree to let one ghostly couple adopt him and to work together to protect him from the man who wants him dead.

It was the gory opening that I disliked. I'm prone to nightmares and have been since I was small, so I tend to be sensitive to books that are marketed to children but which I think could give some of them nightmares. And, The Graveyard Book certainly would have given me nightmares as a child.

On the second reading, though, I knew what was coming and enjoyed it for the atmosphere, the unique setting, and the story. I didn't mind the murder at all because I knew it had to happen for little Nobody Owens, or "Bod", to enter the world of the ghosts in the graveyard. In other words, I was free to appreciate the book, the second time. And, boy, did I. Especially at the beginning of the book, I could imagine reading the book aloud to children. It's so beautifully written and atmospheric, just a stunning beginning with fog creeping around the door frame and this giggly little child completely unaware of the danger while you're thinking, "Hurry, child, hurry," and feeling the chill in the air.

And, then, the happenings in the graveyard are both wildly creative and somehow believable.  "What would happen to a human who grew up with ghosts?" One of the group members asked, and then answering herself, said: "He'd learn to fade." In other words, those little magical touches within the book seem utterly sensible, given the context.

We didn't do a show of hands but I'd say more than half of my group liked The Graveyard Book. Of the ones who didn't like it, one said it was just too geared toward children and he's not really interested in children's books. One was the member who had stopped discussion of Gaiman completely when I tried to recommend his books for discussion, earlier in the year, and she said she's just not interested in anything otherworldly at all - ghosts/spirits, scifi, fantasy, etc. She's only interested in realistic fiction. One woman said, "I don't have a problem with that. I've seen ghosts." One said, "I didn't understand the purpose of the murder, apart from placing the child in the graveyard. Why was the murderer after him, in particular?" And, another member said, "I can't analyze books like you guys do, but when I opened the book I stepped into the graveyard with Bod and stayed till I closed it. I enjoyed it. It was an experience."

What a fun discussion! We didn't have any discussion questions and we went off-topic a bit more than I think some of us would have liked to but the discussion was noisy because the opinions were so divided. I was not the only person who had trouble with a book with such a terrifying opening being marketed to children. But, apparently, I'm the only person in my group who hasn't read The Jungle Book. One member commented on the episodic nature of the book (which I noticed this time - it almost felt like interconnected short stories rather than a novel) and the group member who recommended The Graveyard Book noted that it's based on The Jungle Book, so that episodic aspect is deliberate.

OK. So, I have to read The Jungle Book, soon. Fortunately, I have a copy. The bottom line is that I liked The Graveyard Book much more the second time around. Whether or not it's appropriate for children seems to be up for debate, but the writing is stunning, you get a little peek into history via the ghosts from different eras (one of whom, for example, has no idea what a banana is), and it is, in fact, a book that won an award for excellence in children's writing, so somewhere there's a panel of people who thought it was just fine and dandy for kids. I'd still keep it from children who are prone to nightmares or read it with them.

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